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Watch these adults try their luck in a grown-up spelling bee
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The Godspellers from Grace Episcopal Church write down their assigned word on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, during the Gainesville-Hall County Alliance for Literacy 27th annual Spelling Bee at the Brenau University Hosch Auditorium. - photo by David Barnes

Spelling bees aren’t just for elementary schools.

The Great Grown Up Spelling Bee is back at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 14, at Brenau’s Hosch Theatre for its 28th-annual adult spelling bee, pitting teams of three from churches, colleges and businesses in the area against one another, all looking to take home bragging rights for the year.

“I'm always trying to get out to people that it's for grown-ups to enjoy, because some people tend to think that a spelling bee is for kids,” said Gay Hammond, wordsmith and emcee for the event. “I think the evening is really fun and amusing and entertaining. I try to make it as entertaining as possible.”

Eight teams will compete this year, with all proceeds going to the Gainesville/Hall Alliance for Literacy.

The Great Grown-Up Spelling Bee works like a normal bee. Teams walk to the microphone and Hammond reads a word they must spell. If they get it right, they move on to the next round. If they get it wrong, they have a one-time chance to buy their way back into the competition with a $100 donation to Gainesville/Hall Alliance for Literacy.

Grace Episcopal Church spelled the word “noetic” — pronounced similarly to “poetic” — correctly last year to win for its second-straight year.

2019 Great Grown-Up Spelling Bee teams

(Teams are subject to change)


Spell-Belles, Brenau University

Allie McConnell

Ashton Stockdale

Sommer Stockton

Bailey Merritt (Alternate)


The Beeattitudes, First Baptist Church of Gainesville

Karen Craft

Jennifer McCall

Joshua McCall


Circuit Riders, Gainesville First United Methodist Church

Ruth Bruner

Shelia McCleary

Pat Harrell


Rotary Rouges, Rotary Club of Gainesville

Kay Blackstock

Kathleen Owens

Martha Zoller

Mike Giles (Alternate)


The Godspellers, Grace Episcopal Church

Amy Bussler

Rob Harris

Nancy Richardson


Bibliophiles, Hall County Library

Clayton Dillingham

Denise Lee

Charles Rozier

Brian Hood (Alternate)


Word Nerds, Lanier Technical College

Annette Baker

Katie Roberts

Tim Thomas

Debbie Killip (Alternate)


Better than Autocorrect, The Times

Megan Reed

Nick Watson

DeJuan Woodard

Kelsey Richardson (Alternate)

“In the beginning, we used to use the Scripps national list,” Hammond said of how she chooses the words each year. “But we've gone beyond that after doing it for so many years. So yeah, I just choose the words.”

She uses Google and a dictionary to choose words she likes. She looks at past lists to throw a few that were missed into the mix — there’s an entire round made up of words like that. There are also rounds that are made up of words from authors she enjoys like Terry Pratchett, Georgette Heyer or Charles Dickens.

“Toward the last rounds I'm just going for difficult words out of the dictionary,” Hammond said. “I like words that have some meaning. I try to stay away from deeply scientific words or words that are very difficult for normal people to even put into context. I like words that we can use, that are maybe weird or difficult to spell but you could maybe put in a sentence.”

The spelling bee is not just for the teams on stage, though. Hammond tries to make it interactive, and encourages the audience to root for the teams. Sometimes, they’re nervous to spell things, so the teams like all the encouragement they can get.

There’s even an audience round, where audience members are given 10 words to spell, and whoever spells all the words correctly gets a prize.

“We're trying to make the audience-participation words a little more accessible to people,” Hammond said. “I think over the years they have gotten so hard that people have been not wanting to join in on that.”

This year, she’s making them a little easier and if more than one person spell them all correctly, the winner will be drawn out of a hat.

Hammond has been doing this event for more than 20 years. She said she comes back year after year because she’s a natural-born performer — she’s the director of WonderQuest at the Gainesville Theatre Alliance — and it’s all for a good cause.

“I'm a word geek,” Hammond said. “I just think words in the English language are hilarious and amazing. And I think that's what gets me. I love the combination of vocabulary that we do not use but could and should and how bizarre there's a word for everything.”

Great Grown-Up Spelling Bee

What: Adult spelling bee fundraiser for Gainesville/Hall Alliance forLiteracy

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 14

Where: Brenau’s Hosch Theatre, 29 Academy St. NE, Gainesville

How much: $10 for adults, $5 for children 12 and younger

More info: www.facebook.com/events/1210576539098656

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